now that is scary





The United Nations High Commisoner for Refguees (UNHCR) released a new report entitled "Asylum Levels and Trends in Inudstrialized Countries First Half 2009: Statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries." From the introduction:

This report summarizes patterns and trends in the number of individual asylum claims submitted in Europe and selected non-European countries during the first six months of 2009. The data in this report is based on information available as of 28 September 2009 unless otherwise indicated. It covers the 38 European and six non-European States that currently provides monthly asylum statistics to UNHCR.
The numbers in this report reflect asylum claims made at the first instance of asylum procedures: applications on appeal or review are not included. Also, this report does not include information on the outcome of asylum procedures, or on the adminission of refugees through resettlement programmes, as this information is available in other UNHCR reports.

The report uses the terms "the 44 industrialized countries" referring to: "27 Member States of the European Union, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America." The study found that all the countries are seeing increased claims for asylum and the US "continued to be the largest single recipient of new asylum claims during the first six months of 2009." The top five countries for most asylum claims are (in descending order) the US, France, Canada, UK and Germany.

Number one country of origin for aslyum seekers? From the report:

Iraq again became the main country of orgin of asylum-seekers in industrialized countries in 2006, having previously been the main source country in 2000 and 2002. Iraq also continued to be the leading country of origin of asylum applicants during the first six months of 2009 with 13,200 asylum claims lodged by its citizens. The latest figures, however, show a decreasing trend, with roughly one third fewer Iraqis requesting international protection compared to the previous two semesters. The decrease in Iraqi claims was particularly signficant during the second quarter of 2009 when 5,400 applied for asylum in the 44 industrialized countreis, the lowest quarterly level since the second quarter of 2006.
During the first six months of 2009, Iraqis lodged asylum applications in 38 out of the 44 industrialized countries covered by this report, but the distribution of claims is not equally spread across countries. More than half of all Iraqi claims were submitted in just four countries: Germany (3,000), Turkey (2,600), Sweden (1,000) and the Netherlands (950). The decrease in Iraqi asylums was observed among all major receiving countries, and in particular in Sweden, where figures plummeted, from an average of roughtly 9,300 claims per semester during 2007, to 1,000 during the reporting period. Although the levels and trends in asylum flows are often difficult to explain, they can sometimes be related to concrete policy changes. In the case of Sweden, the change in Swedish decision making on Iraqi asylum claims, following the Migration Court's determination that the situation in Iraq is not one of "armed conflict", may have led to a shift in flows to other countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway.

This was the fourth year in a row that the number one country of origin was Iraq. UNHCR also released [PDF format warning] "Developing a Livelihoods Assessment and Strategy: Case Stduy from UNCHR Jordan." The report estimates there are currently 685 Iraqis seeking asylum in Jordan and 500,413 Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

The Iraqi refugee population in Jordan has come from various educational and societal backgrounds. Many had become very frustrated and suffer psychological distress due to the isolation and idleness that they face. Many were asking for an opportunity to be involved in delivering services to the refugee community (which also can be used as a method to enhance the community based approach), and many asked for opportunities to expand their existing skills and capacities.

And how many Iraqi refugees did the US accept? In the August 19th snapshot the Eric Schwartz (Asst Sect of Population, Refugees and Migration) State Dept press conference was covered. He asserted in that press conference, regarding Iraqi refugees being accepted by the US, "The numbers -- let me -- I think I may answer your next question. The numbers for fiscal year 2008, I think are on the order of about 13,000. I'm looking to my team here. And the numbers for fiscal year 2009 will get us -- will probably be up to about 20,000." Click here for transcript and video of the press conference. Following the November 2008 election, Sheri Fink (ProPublica) reported on the issue and noted, "A State Department official contacted by ProPublica said, 'We really do recognize a special responsibility.' The official said that resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees in fiscal 2009 was a minimum target. 'We hope to bring in many more.' The U.S. will also be accepting Iraqis who worked for the US through special immigrant visas, a program [7] that resulted from legislation introduced by Senator Ted Kennedy (discussed [8] recently by Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's senior coordinator on Iraqi refugee issues)." So how many Iraqi refugees resettle in Fiscal Year 2009? According to the US State Dept this month, the number is 18,838. Bare minimum was reached and a tiny bit passed. So what is that? The partially nude minimum? What a proud moment for the US government.

Staying with the US government, at the State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about Iraq and the 'intended' elections for January 2010 and he responded:

The Iraqi legislative branch, which is called the Council of Representatives, has had two readings of the bill, two sessions debating the bill and -- I guess -- Iraqi law or the-the Iraqi parliamentary rules call for three readings before it comes to a vote. What's happened is that because there is this inability to agree on a text. The whole process has been passed to the Political Council for National Security which is composed of the head of the main parties and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President and (two) Vice Presidents. This is to see if they can come to some kind of agreement. And, of course, we encourage them to come up with a reconciled text and rapidly pass the legislation. Ultimately, of course, this is a -- this is for the Iraqis to decide. And this is a -- this is the kind of a process that you don't see very often in Baghdad. So, in some ways, it's encouraging that we have this kind of lively debate. But having said that, this has to move expeditiously. We see the elections in January as a real milestone in the development of Iraqi democracy. And we would like to see this law passed and the elections carried out in a fair and open way.

McClatchy's Jospeh Galloway notes the 'intended' elections in a piece where he weighs in on the 'change' (non)delivered by US President Barack Obama, "The president-to-be promised a swift withdrawal from the Iraqi quicksand, but that hasn't come to pass, either. Instead, we witness a slow-mo pullout that will sort of end things on the Bush administration's timetable of late 2011 for the last American combat troops to be gone, and God only knows when for the rest to leave. That's if the Iraqi parliament can pass a new election law in time for elections to be held on schedule in January." Yesterday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy told the US House Armed Services Committee that the delay was not currently a problem. She stated that Parliament had two weeks to act and that they could "simply have a vote on an election date" and leave all other issues by the wayside as they utilized the law from the 2005 elections. This would not only mean that the elections would be on a closed-list, it would also mean the issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed. (The long post-poned issue of Kirkuk was not being addressed.) On the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) began airing Friday (a new one begins airing tomorrow night), Jasim Azawi explained "an open list is where a group, they list every single candidate running for office, for parliament. While a closed list-- just like happened in 2005 -- you really don't know who you are voting for." Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was on the show and he is among those calling for an open list -- as is current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- and Allawi offered this, "In fact, this is another failure by the Iraqi Parliament to produce a strategic law that would -- hopefully would be cementing democracy. But unfortunately, that's not the case. Likewise, the Parliament has failed in producing a law for the parties -- to say where the funding for these parties are coming from, what they are, who they are, are they national, are they sectarian, are they secular. So there are no laws -- no laws of election. Indeed, the Iraqi people are disenchanted with the so-called closed list because usually it's either voting for the sect or voting for the -- for the leader of the list." Along with using the former election law being seen as a failure by Iraqs, there's also the what Rod Nordland (New York Times) reported yesterday, "Iraq's existing election law was declared unconstitutional by its highest court, which said it needs to be replaced or amended." Michele Flournoy did not reference that decision to the committee yesterday. Which doesn't mean it doesn't apply.

Other problems include Faleh Hassan (Middle East Online) reports that the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) is currently "facing allegations of corruption and of poorly supervising elections" Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the "supreme Shiite religious tuhorities," the Marajiya, have concerns about the elections including the issue of the lists, "Another Iraqi who's close to the Marjaiya said their foremost goal was to preserve the unity of Iraq, and that replacing the system of party lists of candidates with direct votes for representatives would serve this aim."

US State Dept spokesperson Ian Kelly was also asked today about the US Embassy in Baghdad and "shoddy work" and he sidestepped the issue with, "Let me take that question and see if I can get a reaction to you." What was he avoiding? Warren P. Strobel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports the costly ($736 million) US Embassy is the subject of a new study by the State Dept's Inspector General which finds, "contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., failed to properly design, construct and commission the largest U.S. Embassy overseas. It also cites failures by the former leadership of the State Department bureau that's responsible for constructing overseas diplomatic posts. Officials there said that those failures had been rectified, and they took issue with some aspects of the inspector general's report." And they note McClatchy's previous coverage of the US Embassy construction issues including the following:

New U.S. Embassy in Baghdad ready — six months late
At new U.S. Embassy in Iraq, even kitchens are fire hazards
Mammoth new U.S. Embassy marks new stage for Iraq

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Iraq's 'intended' January elections"
"Those amazing and wonderful Iraqi security forces"
"Stop 'nation building"
"Where it stands"
"The joke that is Norman Solomon"
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"A new Watergate?"
"US House Armed Services Committee: Define stability"
"Iraqi elections"
"No government should attack the press"
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"Faded glory"